CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
No. 38, 18 pages, 1 figure, 1 plate. July 10, 1963-
OIL SEEPAGES ON THE
ARCTIC COASTAL PLAIN, ALASKA
G Dallas Hanna
Department of Geology
California Academy of Sciences
North of the Brooks Range in Arctic Alaska and beyond a belt of roll-
ing foot hills, an area of very low relief covers more than 35,000 square
miles. Much of this lies within U. S. Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 and has
been adequately described in current and available literature together with
details of test drilling by the Navy (Reed, 1958).
On the Reserve and in the area adjacent to it to the east there is sur-
face evidence of oil in numerous places. It is the purpose of this paper to
bring together in one place all of the information I have been able to gather
during several years work in that region. My information has come from many
sources: (a) published records; (b) interviews with residents; (c) personal in-
vestigation. The area is so large that a map suitable for octavo publication
would be inadequate to show necessary details. Therefore reference is made
to the Geological Map of Alaska compiled by Dutro & Payne (1957) which is
currently available. The small outline map herewith will show the general lo-
* The work upon which this report is based was done under subcontract No.
ONR-205 with the Arctic Institute of North America and the Office of Naval
2 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
In preparing this record I have received help from too many people to
warrant individual acknowledgment, but to all of them I must express my
deep appreciation. The result would have been extremely fragmentary, how-
ever, had it not been for the assistance of Mr. James Dalton of Fairbanks,
Alaska, Manager of Construction of DEW line during my stay at Point Barrow;
Mr. Ted Matthews, also of Fairbanks and in charge of transportation during
much of the drilling operations for the Navy, 1944-1953 and Director of the
Arctic Research Laboratory, 1954; Dr. Ira L. Wiggins, Director of the same
Laboratory during much of the drilling activity; Mr. Max Brewer, Director of
the Laboratory during a part of my stay there; and Lieutenant Commander R,
L. Reynolds, U. S. Navy Ice Patrol, 1957, who furnished some much needed
transportation. And lastly it is with much pleasure that I can record the val-
uable assistance of Messrs. George Gryc, George Gates, Don Miller, W. W.
Patton, Jr., Robert Detterman, and Irving Tailleur of the Alaska Branch, U.S.
Geological Survey for critically reviewing the manuscript.
It is natural to assume that all of the presently known oil seepages
were discovered by Eskimos long ago but since they left no written record,
our information from them is limited to the recollections of living persons.
Therefore the historical record will be presented first.
The first Europeans to reach Point Barrow were two members of the
crew of the British ship Blossom in 1826. These were Thomas Elson and En-
sign Smyth who had proceeded northward along the coast in a small boat af-
ter the ship had been blocked by ice near Franklin Point (Reed, p. 17). The
stay at Barrow was short and no mention of the seepages or oil has been re-
The first explorers who traversed the Arctic Coast past any of the seep-
ages were Sir John Franklin and party in the same year. He was attempting
to round the northern part of the continent and perhaps meet the Blossom, but
his small boats were blocked by ice at Return Point near the mouth of Kupar-
uk River. They passed and named Manning Point and Humphrey Point, near
both of which surface evidence of oil has been reliably reported, but no men-
tion of this appeared in the report of the expedition.
In order to complete the traverse of the north coast, the Hudson's Bay
Company outfitted a party in 1837 under Thomas Simpson and Peter Warren
Dease. With 12 crew men and two specially built sail boats they descended
the Mackenzie River, travelled westward through shoals and broken ice to a
point four miles west of Cape Simpson, named for George Simpson, Governor
of the Company. Because of ice conditions, the boats were left there in charge
of Dease, and Simpson with five companions started on foot for Point Barrow
on August 1. On the way they picked up an umiak and reached Point Barrow
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 3
by this boat August 4, 1837. On August 6 they rejoined their companions and
proceeded eastward over their previous route. Thus Dease with seven men
camped for over a week within a few miles of the Cape Simpson seepages but
no mention is made of them in the narrative (Dease and Simpson, 1838, pp.
213-225; Simpson, 1843, pp. 109-168).
Among the many early ships which visited the Arctic, especially those
in search of the missing explorer Sir John Franklin, there was one which it
seems, might have come across the Cape Simpson seepages. This was H.M.S.
Plover. This vessel had winter quarters in Elson Lagoon near Point Barrow
during 1852-1853 and 1853-1854. The surgeon, John Simpson, (1855) pub-
lished an extensive account of the Eskimos and their country. From this it is
obvious that he acquired a good working knowledge of their language, but if
they ever mentioned "pitch" to him he made no record of it.
During 1881-1883 an International Polar Expedition under Lieut. P. H.
Ray was stationed at Point Barrow and resulted in the gathering of a wealth
of information about that part of the Arctic (Ray, 1885). The general report
contains no information regarding the presence of oil or tar. However, one
member of the party was the indefatigable naturalist, John Murdoch. In his
report on the Ethnological results of the Point Barrow Expedition he said:
"We also heard a story of a lake of tar or bitumen 'a'dngm,' said to be situ-
ated on an island a day's sail east of the point" (Murdock, 1892, p. 61). This
unquestionably refers to the Cape Simpson seepage.
On May 4, 1896, Ensign W. L. Howard of Lieut. Stoney's party was
travelling down the upper part of the Etivluk River on a trip from the Noatak
River to Point Barrow. When about 50 miles downstream from the point where
the portage strikes the Etivluk, he "passed a hill about 500 feet eleva-
tion with outcroppings of coal. On the sides of this hill beyond the coal were
also found large pieces of a substance called wood by the natives; it was
hard, brittle, light brown in color, very light in weight and burned readily,
giving out quantities of gas. This material was scattered about in all shapes,
sizes, and quantities. The snow and ice made it impossible to climb and dig;
a specimen was preserved" (Stoney, 1899, p. 814).
In referring to this occurrence. Brooks (1909, p. 62) quoted Dall who
probably saw the sample collected because of additional information he gave.
He stated that the material " recalled pitch in hardness and weight, but
not brilliant nor disposed to melt with heat, but making a clean cut, like 'plug'
tobacco, when whittled with a knife. This material was sufficiently inflam-
mable to ignite and burn with a steady flame on applying a match to a corner
of it, so that in their cold and weary journey it formed a most welcome sub-
stitute for wood or other fuel for the camp fire" (Dall, 1896, p. 818).
This locality is in the upper drainage of the Colville River and on the
Aupuk anticline. It is in the same vicinity as a methane gas seepage discov-
4 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
ered in 1944 by Field Party No. 4 of the U. S. Geological Survey. This seep-
age was described as rapidly escaping gas in a small lake about one mile
above the junction of Aupuk Creek and the Colville and near the river (Reed,
1958, p. 56). A more detailed description of this seepage was given by Gryc
(1959, p. 92), and is summarized later in this report. The age of the shale is
given as Upper Jurassic, Fortress Mountain formation (Patton, W.W., Personal
communication, 1961), it outcrops extensively and is found secondarily in
Leffingwell (1918, p. 178) apparently did not visit the Cape Simpson
seepages but gave a brief report of their existence from information received
from natives and others prior to 1908. He gave the first chemical analysis (by
David T. Day) of the residue, a sample he obtained from Charles Brower at
Point Barrow. He added " the natives say that a considerable amount
could easily be dug out with spades."
His observations and a sample of the oil were evidently made and col-
lected prior to 1908 because practically the same information is given by
Brooks in his report of Alaska operations for that year.
He mentioned another reported "petroleum mound" between Humphrey
Point and Aichillik River near the coast. This is east of Barter Island and
almost on the 142° meridian. If true, it is the easternmost surface evidence
of oil in the region, but may perhaps refer to the seepages called "Ungoon"
Point by Ebbley and Joesting.
Ejnar Mikkelsen, who accompanied Leffingwell during the early part of
his work in the Arctic, made an overland trip from Flaxman Island to Valdez
during the winter of 1907-1908. On the way to Point Barrow he passed close
to the Cape Simpson seepages but did not mention them in the narrative of
his experience (1909, pp. 334-362). It seems that had he known of them he
would have given them some notice, especially if at the time the residue was
being used for fuel. He does tell about the beginning of the use of coal by
Eskimos at Wainwright through the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Kilbuck, school-
teachers (Mikkelsen, 1909, p. 357).
Unless the Cape Simpson seepages were visited by one of the early
explorers or whalers whose observations were not recorded or have been over-
looked, the first white man to see them was the well known Charles Brower
and his partner, Patrick Grey, while on a hunting trip. In August 1886, they
walked inland toward a "distant hill." Near-by they found two so-called
"lakes" in the larger of which there were four trapped caribou and several
spectacled eider ducks (Brower, 1943, p. 84).
No doubt Brower staked claims on the seepages and maintained them
as best he could for many years (Tommy Brower, verbal communication, 1957).
In 1922 during a visit to San Francisco the elder Brower contacted the Stand-
ard Oil Company and the then Chief Geologist, G. C. Gester (verbal communi-
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 5
cation, 1958) was sufficiently impressed by the description that he despatched
a geological party to Point Barrow to investigate the situation.
During the progress of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-1918,
one of the party. Diamond Jenness, was camped at Cape Simpson and visited
the seepages after being told of them by an Eskimo companion. He found an
Arctic owl dead on the "shore" (Jenness, 1957, p. 21).
Van Valin (1941, pp. 117-122; 1945, pp. 94-199) published an account
of a trip he made with a party of 20 to the Cape Simpson seepages in May,
1915. In the group were Charles Brower and T. L. Richardson, school teacher
at Point Barrow. Some additional details of the trip have been supplied by
Mrs. Ruth (Richardson) Belstorff, of Johnson, Nebraska, verbally and by let-
ter. She was a young girl at Point Barrow at the time and has the diaries
kept by her parents. Mr. Richardson had been to the seepages twice before
this trip and was instrumental in organizing the large party. Two twenty-
acre claims were staked under the name "Arctic Rim Mineral Oil Claims,"
and they were recorded at Kiana, on Squirrel Creek, a tributary of the Kobuk
River according to Van Valin (p. 127). Mrs. Belstorff has copies of original
papers pertaining to these claims (letter, May 8, 1960). Van Valin (p. 121)
also described the low hills which mark the seepages and mentions numerous
oil soaked and partly eaten birds around the margin in soft residue. He also
speculated upon the possibility of these being traps of long duration similar
to the La Brea Pits in Los Angeles, California. He evidently was in error
in assuming that the Eskimos used this tar to "seal leaky seams in their skin
Mr. George Gryc has examined the files of the U. S. Geological Survey
in Washington and very kindly supplied the following information regarding
the next oil excitement.
"We have two maps, one of the Wainwright-Smith Bay region at a scale
of 1 inch equals 10 miles and another of the Cape Simpson area, at a scale of
1 inch equals 1 mile. The titles state 'examined by Adams Expedition for
North Star Oil Syndicate. Mapping by Max Steineke, Harry Campbell and A.M.
Smith.' The Wainwright-Smith Bay map has large areas outlined in the Cape
Simpson, lower Meade River, and Skull Cliff areas, which were presumably
staked according to the old placer claim laws. The maps are dated July 5 and
August 30, 1921. This was after the placer laws were superceded by oil and
gas-lease laws (February, 1920). I believe Sandy [A. M. Smith] told me that
they were not aware of the new regulations at the time they were in the field.
The mile to the inch map shows the area of the individual claims in the Cape
Simpson area. The first map also has two seepages plotted in the Simpson
area, two at Skull Cliff and a 'gas seepage' about 10 miles northeast along
the coast from the Skull Cliff oil seepages. In the lower Meade River area
several dips and strikes are plotted as well as six oil seepages."
6 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
According to Smith's account of the expedition as published in Alaska
Weekly, April 20, 1923, he and R. D. Adams went north in the spring of 1921.
Adams, it states, won a fortune in the Nome gold fields and he was one of
the group of backers.
It seems apparent from available documents that much if not all of this
early activity resulted from the promotional proclivities of prospector Alex-
ander Malcom (Sandy) Smith. He was connected with the ill-fated attempt to
take some tractors over the Brooks Range to Point Barrow in connection with
exploratory flights by Sir Hubert VVilkins and Bernt Balchen (Wilkins, Jan.
1955, verbal communication). The machines were soon abandoned, but Smith
and a companion, recorded as W. H. Berry, finally reached Point Barrow in a
rather pitiful condition (Tommy Brower, personal communication, 1957). On
the way, it seems that Smith got into one of the seepages and thereafter
claimed to be the discoverer of what Charles Brower had visited long before.
It is difficult to sift fact from fiction in the newspaper account (cited above)
but it does appear that Smith's group staked 37 claims (in a four-page manu-
script I have seen the number is given as 42) in the general Point Barrow
area but locations are not given. The paper does not mention Harry S. Camp-
bell but it is known that he prepared a report. It is mentioned in several U.S.
Geological Survey Reports but was not found by Mr. Gryc in the Washington
office files and Don Miller (verbal communication) was unable to locate it in
the files of the Alaska Branch office at Menlo Park, California. Very likely
information contained in it was used to some extent in the setting up of Nav-
al Petroleum Reserve No. 4.
While on the Arctic Coast Mr. Campbell picked up a small series of re-
cent marine shells which he presented to the California Academy of Sciences
and they are now a part of the research collection of that institution.
In the collection of papers owned by Malcom A. Smith (son of "Sandy"
Smith) there is a photograph of Harry S. Campbell, Max Steineke, W. D. Adams,
Mr. Smith, and a man named "Pond" standing beside a low sod house, prob-
ably at Half Moon Ranch, the reindeer station of the Brower family. The pho-
tograph is not dated.
E. M. Butterworth and Charles Meek spent the season of 1923 working
in the Point Barrow area for Standard Oil Company of California. They visited
Cape Simpson and also Skull Cliff about 30 miles south of the point. A seep-
age was reported to them there. During the course of their work they collected
a good series of Pleistocene fossils at Skull Cliff from the formation which
has come under the name Gubik of later years. Meek described and illustrated
these (Meek, 1923). Whatever their recommendations may have been regarding
commercial oil possibilities, they were nullified soon thereafter by the setting
aside of the entire area as Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 (Harding, 1923).
No. 38) MANNA: OIL SKHPAGHS OF AK( IK ALASKA 7
The documents and arguments which were presented and which resulted in
the establishment of this Reserve, have not been published.
Thus, it appears clear that the first geologists who studied any part of
the Arctic slope from a petroleum standpoint were Harry S. Campbell and Max
Steineke in 1921, even though the results of their observations are fragmen-
tary. Unfortunately it is necessary to omit from discussion in this connection
the marvelous work of the justly celebrated geologist Schrader (1904) because
his report contains no information regarding the presence of oil and gas.
Private investigations of the region ceased with 1923 and the setting
aside of the Reserve. The first Government geological report appeared two
years later by Paige, Foran, and Gilluly (1925) as a Bulletin of the U. S. Geo-
logical Survey. That branch of the Government has been responsible for near-
ly all subsequent work.
Paige et rt/. described the two main Capt Simpson seepages and photo-
graphed them. The "weathered" live oil was analyzed. They did not mention
the presence of trapped animals or the mining of the heavier residues by the
Eskimos. Mention was made of the presence of fragments of shale on the two
mounds at the seepage localities. In sinking pits on the mounds which have
the seepages, Patton (1948, p. 2) reported that no bed rock was found but in
the silt and clay some rounded chert and quartzite pebbles were found. Also
some pieces of limey shale, limestone, and ironstone float were found on the
surface, and a few similar ones were found in the excavations. Two samples
of silt and clay from pits Nos. 1 and 2 yielded four and seven species of For-
aminifera respectively, generically determined only by Mrs. Helen Loeblich
(Patton, 1948, p. 3).
The work of Smith and Mertie in 1925, although not published until 1930,
is still a basic reference to the general geology of that region. Their efforts
were concentrated on geology and no new seepages of oil were discovered.
They quoted the description of the Cape Simpson seepages from Paige et al.
(Smith and Mertie, pp. 176-278) and added a map to show their location. They
did find a piece of oil shale as float on the Etivluk River not far from the oc-
currence described by Howard (in Stoney, 1899, p. 814). Two additional pieces
of shale float were given to them, one from upper and one from lower Meade
River (Smith and Mertie, 1930, p. 284).
In 1943 Norman Ebbley (U. S. Bureau of Mines), Henry R. Joesting (Ter-
ritorial Department of Mines), and Henry F. Thomas (U. S. Army Engineers)
were sent to the Arctic slope specifically to investigate oil and gas seepages.
Sigurd Wien was pilot and Simon Paneak, an Eskimo of Anaktuvuk and Chand-
ler Lake, was guide.
A comprehensive manuscript report on this work was submitted by Ebb-
ley and Joesting (1943, 33 pp.). I had an opportunity to examine a copy of this
through the courtesy of Mr. Max Brewer, Director, Arctic Research Laboratory.
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
It contains much more information than the condensed published report (Anon.
1944, pp. 1-9, and Ebbley,1944, pp. 415-419). Since both reports are relatively
inaccessible, numerous significant passages have been quoted herein.
Skull Cliff Seepage
Skull Cliff is located on the coast about 30 miles south of Point Bar-
row and was evidently known by 1921 because the party sent north that year
by the North Star Oil Syndicate staked claims there. George Gryc mentioned
the seepage (1958, p. 126; 1959, p. 92) and that oil may be seen oozing from
the Cretaceous rocks there. He also mentioned the seepages at the base of
Umiat Mountain and in the lakes just west of it. In a very brief landingat Skull
Cliff in 1954, I did not search for the oil although I examined the Cretaceous
and Gubik rocks at that point for fossils.
Brooks (1916, p. 52) referred somewhat indefinitely to a seepage re-
ported to him as near Wainwright Inlet and 100 miles southwest of Point Bar-
row. No additional information has been found. Possibly Skull Cliff could
have been in the mind of the informant although the location is far off.
:ase inlet '^\9^
vpe simpson ^^^ j
1. SKULL CLIFF
5. FISH CREEK
6. BROWNLOW POINT
7. MANNING POINT
8. HUMPHREY POINT r
1 0. AUPUK
Figxire 1. Outline map showing locations of oil and gas seepages in Arctic Alaska.
Dease Inlet Seepage
Ebbley and Joesting located this seepage and another about 200 yards
east of it, as on the east side of Dease Inlet about 4.5 miles northeast of
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 9
Thomas Brewer's warehouse. The latter is indicated on U. S. Geological Sur-
vey Map E of Alaska, 1954, by the name Alaktak. This is near the mouth of
Chipp River. Heavy residue had issued from a low mound. It formed a deposit
sufficient for some mining operations by the Eskimos to secure fuel.
Cape Simpson Area
There are three well known seepages of oil in this area and they have
been referred to repeatedly as Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Ebbley and Joesting located
No. 1 as four miles northwest of Cape Simpson and 500 yards from the ocean
shore. Seep No. 2, is on a prominent hill three miles south of No. 1. It is
slightly south and about 500 yards east of the ocean shore. The oil flows
down hill and eventually reaches a lake which covers several acres. At times
it must cover the surface of the water and this led to early reports of "a lake
of oil." There is much evidence of residue although parts of the area have
been stripped by Eskimos for fuel. Seep No. 3 is about five miles south and
a little east of No. 2. It is farther from the ocean than Nos. 1 and 2, and
therefore was not mined as extensively. The residue covers an area about
800 feet x 1000 feet according to Ebbley and Joesting.
A fourth seep noted as 2A on a map prepared by Arctic Contractors, No.
1275, dated December, 1950, is located almost midway between Nos. 2 and 3.
Well No. 31 was drilled here.
In addition to the above, Ebbley and Joesting stated that two addition-
al seepages were known in this area about 10 miles west of Cape Simpson.
No other reference to these has been found.
Numerous test wells and a few for production were drilled in the Cape
Simpson area with some encouraging results. (For details, see Reed, 1958.)
In 1948 the U. S. Geological Survey (Patton, pp. 1-4) dug two pits on
Seepage No. 1, four on Seepage No. 2, and one on Seepage No. 3. These
varied in depth from 9 to 13 feet and were located so as to give as much in-
formation as possible on the origin of the light oil. No extensive deposit of
residue was found. The oil seemed to be escaping by way of steeply dipping
fractures in the permafrost which had no regular orientation. "The fractures
varied in width from a few inches to a foot and were filled with loosely com-
pacted oil saturated silt and clay."
From this investigation it seems unlikely that there is a reservoir of
pitch of sufficient size to serve as an animal trap similar to those of McKit-
trick and La Brea in California.
The locations of the Cape Simpson seepages are more accurately shown
on a map prepared by W.W. Patton, Jr. (1948). Using Cape Simpson as a refer-
ence point these are: No. 1-3 mi. N., | mi. from ocean shore;No. 2 -3i mi. S. of
No. 1, 11 mi. from ocean shore; No. 3- 3^ mi. S. of No. 2, 2 mi. from ocean shore.
White Mountain Area
Ebbley and Joesting had a report from Eskimo sources that there was a
10 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
seepage of oil about 5 or 10 miles north of the "White Mountains" and be-
tween the east and west forks of the Kupowruk River. They searched for, but
did not find evidence of oil.
Ebbley and Joesting described four seepages in this area. A steady flow
of light oil and gas was found in a small lake "about a mile west of Umiat
Mountain and 100 yards from the north bank of the Colville River. More oil was
found in another lake about a mile west of this one. And sand containing high
gravity oil was found on the river bank south of the first lake mentioned. They
reported that seven years prior to their visit Simon Paneak collected a gallon
of oil from the sand and this was burned in a lamp by a trader at Beechey Point.
Wells drilled in this area during Naval exploration showed on produc-
tion tests that estimates of reserves were warranted.
Fish Creek Seepage
This small patch of residue was described by Ebbley and Joesting as be-
ing about 6 feet X 20 feet in extent. They noted that a "great many" birds and
small rodents had been trapped in the tar. The location was said to be 25
miles southwest of the mouth of the Colville River and more specifically, 4
miles north 60° West from the junction of Ovolotuk and Fish creeks. Small pro-
duction of heavy oil was obtained from a Navy test well drilled in this vicinity.
In 1954 the U. S. Geological Survey received a report of a rather exten-
sive seepage near Brownlow Point. It has not been investigated since as far
as has been learned. An Air Force employee driving a tracked vehicle was
mired in the tar and extracted himself with considerable difficulty. The exact
location he gave was at the head of the small unnamed bay bounded on the
east by the peninsula of which Brownlow Point is the north extremity, and on
the southwest by a long narrow spit with Ruth Island off the extreme tip. This
area is well shown on U. S. Geological Survey, Flaxman Island Quadrangle,
Ed. 1951. The above information was furnished by Mrs. Florence (Robinson)
Weber and Mr. George Gryc, both of the U. S. Geological Survey.
Manning Point Seepage
Ebbley and Joesting describe this as an extensive beach with much
Upper figure. A portion of deposit of oil seepage residue (No. 2), Cape Simpson,
Alaska, with Eskimo home-made spade used in gathering the material
for fuel. 1918-1947.
Lower figure. Pit at oil seepage No. 2, Cape Simpson, Alaska, with pool of live oil.
The residue excavated contained many bones of animals.
OCC. PAPERS CALIF. ACAD. SCI., NO. 38
(HANNA) PLATE 1
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 11
free oil in evidence. The Point is located about two miles southeast of Bar-
ter Island. They add: "No actual pitch residue was noted; however, the north-
west and northeast beaches which form the point are lined with oil froth for a
mile and a half. A considerable portion of the beach particularly on the north-
west side, consists of an oil bound silt and numerous boulders of soft oil
bound reddish-brown sand were observed. Several trickles of water-carrying
oil film cross the narrow beach. Oil soaked peat was noted at several places
along the sloughed bank. Sample No. 11 was taken from the oil bound silt
found in layers along the northwest beach. An unconsolidated oil soaked silt
underlies the surface. Sample No. 12 was skimmed from the several small
streams of water flowing from the bank to the ocean. Sample No. 13 was col-
lected from exposures of an unconsolidated oil bound brownish red sand which
appeared in places along the bank. Sample No. 14 consisted of oil soaked
vegetable debris found along the bank throughout the entire mile and a half
distance." The U.S. Bureau of Mines later extracted the oil from the above
samples and the gravity varied as follows: 17.3°, 19.0°, 2.6° and 21.3° all API
(Anon. p. 7). This field work was done in 1943 before any contamination from
building or drilling activity was likely. I have seen no other reference to the
Ungoon Point Seepage
This name is not located on any map available to me but Ebbley and
Joesting give the position as 7 miles east of Humphrey Point and about 40
miles west of Demarcation Point. They added the following data: "Ungoon
is the Eskimo term for pitch. Three evidences of petroleum seepages were
found on Ungoon Point. The largest of these is a mile and a quarter south
from the sod house on the Point. The pitch is black and hard and is extreme-
ly difficult to dig. A small amount of mining has been carried out and the
pitch has appeared in several small holes where the tundra has been removed.
The general area is approximately 300 feet north and south and 100 feet east
"Six hundred yards east and about 250 yards from the east beach a
small pool has been excavated in the center of a small hummock. Sample No.
16 was taken from this material which has the same consistency as the larger
exposure. On the east side of Ungoon Point and in line with the two seepages
mentioned above, an exposure of oil bound sand four feet thick appears along
the bank for a distance of about 30 feet. This deposit is located one and one
half miles southeasterly from Ungoon Point proper."
U. S. Geological Survey Exploration
During the years 1944-1953, very extensive and detailed exploration of
the Arctic Coastal Plain was made by geologists of the U. S. Geological Sur-
vey. These parties were well equipped with modern transportation and bases
of supply at Point Barrow and Umiat. The work was a continuing project dur-
12 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
ing the test drilling of Navy Petroleum Reserve No. 4, so that plans could be
made well in advance.
Pahron Gas Seepage
As might be expected these geological field parties visited all of the
known oil and gas seepages in the area and searched for additional ones
about which there were rumors. In addition to verifying an actual oil seepage
at Skull Cliff, Webber (1947) reported briefly on a gas seepage named "Pah-
ron" near the head waters of Meade River. Whittington and Keller (1950) re-
visited the seepage and gave a more precise locality as; 157° 36' W. Long,
and one fourth mile north of the river. Gas was escaping about 100 feet out
in the lake and along a zone about 50 feet in length (Gryc, 1959, p. 92).
Apuk Gas Seepage
A rather extensive seepage of dry gas was discovered in 1945 at the
eastern end of the Aupuk Anticline in a small lake 1| miles above the junc-
tion of Aupuk Creek and the Colville River.
In subsequent years this area was re-examined and Eberlein, Chapman,
and Reynolds (1950) collected a sample. The gas bubbled to the surface of
the lake over about 300 square feet. The analysis of the gas was published
by Gryc (1959, p. 93), together with additional details pertaining to this and
the Pahron seepage. Another seepage, which may possibly be an extension
of Aupuk structure, was reported by R. F. Thurrell in May, 1947. In this case
the bubbling of gas in the lake caused a small ice-free area (Gryc 1959, p.
93). Gryc (1959, pp. 94-95) mentioned oil-bearing sandstones found by various
members of the Geological Survey from several localities: on the Kokolik
River north of the axis of syncline 10; also in the Carbon Creek and Kigalik-
Awuna Rivers area. Most significant possibly was the noting of an almost
continuous belt of Upper Jurassic shale along the north front of the Brooks
Range. It burns readily and undoubtedly was the fuel found in 1886 by How-
ard. And lastly, the Lisburne limestones of Mississippian age in the Brooks
Range were found to have a strong odor and traces of petroleum (Gryc, 1959,
Use of Oil Seepage Residue by Eskimo People
No definite evidence has been found to indicate that the native people
used the pitch or tar from the oil seepages in prehistoric times (Ford, James
A. Letter dated Jan. 20, 1950). This is surprising in view of their ingenuity
in using many other available products.
Recollections of the people differ as to the exact year when they began
using the material for fuel and who induced them to do so. The earliest def-
inite record I have found was the spring of 1918 when Van Valen (1941, p.
149, 1945, p. 122) sent Eskimos to the [Cape Simpson] seepages for a supply
of tar during a fuel shortage.
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 13
Stefansson (1913, pp. 45-46) spent a part of the winter of 1908-1909 at
Point Barrow and described the extreme shortage of fuel. The Eskimos had
exhausted the supply of driftwood for many miles each side of the village. If
they had then known of the heating properties of the material at Cape Simpson
the author would almost certainly have mentioned it. Thus it appears that the
use of the residue from the seepages for fuel was started between 1908 and
Leffingwell's reference in his 1919 report is rather indefinite in this
respect, but it indicates that some ten years prior to when his report was
written, the natives knew how to go about mining the material. In the early
spring of 1932 anthropologist James A. Ford, accompanied Alfred Hopson to
seepages for two sled loads of fuel (Ford, 1959, p. 15).
When Ebbley and Joesting visited the Arctic Slope in 1943, they noted
several hundred sacks of residue at the now abandoned Brower reindeer sta-
tion on Dease Inlet. This had been removed from the seepage bearing that
name. They also noted evidence of mining at Ungoon Point and at all three
Cape Simpson seepages. They estimated the amount of material taken from the
latter as 3000 sacks of 100 pounds each as the annual amount removed. I was
able to verify this estimate from Eskimo sources.
In 1957 three reliable Eskimos, Peter Solvalik, Chester Lampe, and
Kenneth Tuvak gave me a detailed account of the methods employed ingather-
ing the residue. All three had worked at this and had first-hand knowledge.
The best season for cutting the "pitch," as it is locally known, was
the spring. Homemade spades (fig. 1) were used to cut out rectangular blocks
convenient in size to put in sacks of about 100 pounds each for transport to
the village of Barrow. Much of it was hauled the 80 miles directly by dog
team; a load would consist of six or seven sacks. A larger quantity, however,
was hauled to the beach by dog team and when water transport became pos-
sible in the summer it was taken to the village by umiak.
The method of cutting the pitch was to heat a spade very hot over an
open fire. This made the blocks easy to remove from a working face. All
agreed that the material made excellent fuel which lasted a long time, and
gave a great deal of heat together with much smoke. It was liked better than
the coal which replaced it.
In mining the deposits, the Eskimos preferred to choose localities
where the pitch had flowed out over the surface of the tundra and was about
a foot thick. Only rarely did they go to a greater depth than two feet, and
there seemed to be some fear of miring down if the center was worked. When
the Navy established its camp for drilling Petroleum Reserve No. 4 and it be-
came possible to haul coal from Meade River by tractor train in winter, enough
of that fuel was brought in to supply the native village and some of the Gov-
ernment establishments located there. Work in the mine and for the Navy con-
14 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
tractors provided sufficient funds so that the natives could purchase the coal.
This has continued until the present. Gas from the Barrow field was reported
to have been made available to government buildings in the native village
late in 1958 or early 1959.
In recounting their mining experiences at the Cape Simpson seepages,
the natives told of the large number of animals and birds which became trap-
ped. They enumerated small land and shore birds, caribou, foxes, and wolves,
No mention was made of lemmings, the most numerous of Arctic mammals.
I spent several days in the Cape Simpson area, in the summer of 1957
especially to investigate the reported trapped animals by Eskimos and by
Ebbley and Joesting (1943). The latter also reported "great numbers of birds
and small rodents caught in the gummy residue at the Fish Creek seepage."
The bones which I collected were embedded in the tar. With better facilities
for excavating, no doubt additional material could have been obtained.
At Seepage No. 1 many separate elements of caribou skeletons were
found. In addition 10 parts of seal skeletons were picked up. At Seepage No.
2, 25 bones of caribou and 9 of seals were collected. Also there was a flip-
per bone of a small whale. The identifications were made by Dr. Robert T.
Orr, California Academy of Sciences.
While all of the specimens which I collected belong to species now liv-
ing in the area of the seepages, it seems reasonable to suppose that the tar
has been effective as long as it has been present. It is not known if oil has
been escaping since the emergence of the coastal plain or even earlier. If so,
then there is a possibility of Pleistocene animals being present.
The actual cause of the mounds from which the oil emerges is not known
for certain. The work of Patton (1948 and personal communication) does not
indicate that they are the direct result of building of residue or residue-soaked
silt. Anticlinal structure has not been definitely determined. There is a pos-
sibility that the fractures discovered in the pits were caused by earth move-
ments, thus allowing surface water to penetrate. Expansion upon freezing
could cause some heaving as it does in the formation of polygonal surface
structures. One small mound was found north and a little east, one half
mile from Seepage No. 2, which contained no evidence of oil in the pit Patton
Pit No. 2 was excavated to a depth of eight feet by bulldozer during
drilling near by in order to secure fluid for oil base drilling mud (Ted Math-
ews, personal communication). It is noteworthy that the deepest material
brought out then contained many bones and the matrix was still soft "tar"
(fig. 2). It was noted that the bones from the deepest material excavated were
not as well preserved as those higher up. No evidence of mummification or
No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 15
flesh preservation was seen, although this might be expected in the climate
of that area.
Among the bones collected in 1957 there were numerous parts of skel-
etons of seals. The natives who worked at mining the pitch undoubtedly car-
ried some of them there with their food and may have brought them all. The
only other explanation would seem to be to assume a late marine submergence
so that the mounds became islands, which is a possibility but lacks definite
proof. In the Antarctic mummified seals have been found many miles inland
from salt water (Pewe, Rivard and Llano, 1959), but the Eskimos I consulted
had no knowledge of such movements of seals in Arctic Alaska.
With the limited time and equipment at my disposal it is not strange
that no remains of polar bears were found in the seepages, and perhaps there
are none. It is well known that the large brown bears of central and western
Alaska habitually seek oil seepages and wallow in them (Hanna, 1948, pp.
138-139). However, inquiry among reliable Eskimos of Point Barrow did not
yield any information indicating such an activity for the polar bears of that
1944. Oil seepages of the Alaska Arctic Slope. U. S. Bureau of Mines,
War Minerals Report 258, October, 9 pp. [Condensed version of
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1909. Mineral resources of Alaska, 1908, U.S. Geological Survey, Bulle-
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16 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Occ. Papers
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No. 38) HANNA: OIL SEEPAGES OF ARCTIC ALASKA 17
Mf.ek, C. E.
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